Grand Prix of Austria, Red Bull Ring, Legend Parade. Image shows Gerhard Berger.
© GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool

The back story of Red Bull's 1st motorsports athlete, F1's Gerhard Berger

Today, becoming a Red Bull-sponsored athlete can be a career-changing moment for motorsports athletes, and it all started with Austrian F1 legend Gerhard Berger in 1989.
Written by Red Bull
2 min readPublished on
It wasn't just the considerable natural ability behind the wheel of a Formula One car (which earned him 10 Grand Prix wins with three different teams) that endeared Gerhard Berger to fans, rival drivers, and the sport's officials alike. In F1's ultra-competitive world he also possessed an easy charm, charisma, and fun-loving nature that made him seem a bit of a delightful throwback, too.
So, it seemed a natural fit in 1989 when Red Bull decided that the Austrian driver should be taken on as their first sponsored athlete in a landmark deal.
Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 640, Grand Prix of Portugal, Autodromo do Estoril, September 24, 1989.

Gerhard Berger in the Ferrari at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix

© Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

As Red Bull's figurehead driver, Berger's winning personality made him an instant success, but that easy-going nature and reputation as one of F1's great pranksters concealed just what a steely and courageous competitor he was – something that was graphically illustrated in that very year. Despite victories in two spells at Benetton, Ferrari, and also McLaren, perhaps the most enduring image of Berger's 14 seasons in F1 came when he survived the horrific crash in the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, which engulfed his Ferrari in flames.
Berger's car speared off the track at the famous Tamburello corner, hitting the wall at 289kph, before being engulfed in the inferno. Only the speedy reactions of the fire marshals helped save Berger, who was left unconscious for three minutes but, almost miraculously, escaped with just second-degree burns to his hands, a bruised collarbone, and a cracked rib.
Typically, Berger was back in action at the Mexican Grand Prix just a month later, and went on to win another six races in a career that still sees him talked about as one of the finest drivers never to win the world championship.